by Dan Johnson
Downtown has a shit problem. Be it canine or human, the streets are cluttered with sole-clogging feces or the remnants thereof. The inevitability of eventually staining one’s Clark’s with Spring St dookie weighs heavy on the souls of residents and real estate boosters alike.
Yet, arguably the single greatest collection of Downtown poop isn’t found on the pavement. You’ll have to go online to a world wide web browser and enter the search term “Hotel Cecil, Los Angeles” to explore the highest, thickest pile of DTLA bull shit.
Demonic possession! Vortices to hell! Animate walls that consume the souls of the innocent! This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Main St’s favorite horror house.
Facts: The Cecil was built in 1926 on the western edge of the once sprawling Hellman/Wolfskill lot. From the day it was opened, the humble high rise was outclassed by Pershing Square’s Biltmore. In the ensuing years, many met untimely and often gruesome ends there including the once and famous Pershing Square Pigeon Lady, Goldie Osgood, who was raped and strangled to death in her bath tub in 1964. Tack on two serial killers in residence and five decades of squalor in the heart of Skid Row and you’ve got all the makings of an authentic shit hole.
The above resume is pretty grim when measured against, say, a Kentucky Arby’s or an Irvine McMansion. Here in Downtown a few murders and a host of macabre suicides is the equivalent of a building bar mitzvah. If you want to hang with the Alexandria and the Hayward and the Barclay and the El Dorado, you’re going to have a coming of age written in blood.
The Cecil hurtled past the mundane in 2013 when a bit actor in the Hotel’s drama delivered a two-day star turn.
Elisa Lam checked in at 640 S Main St on January 31, 2013. She disappeared on February 1 leaving a few possessions and some truly bizarre footage from an elevator security camera. On February 19, members of the hotel staff found Lam’s decomposing body in the Cecil’s rooftop water tank after receiving reports of low water pressure.
As the police maintained a perimeter around the hotel so the coroners could do their work, the coffee shop in the ground floor was handing out free samples and advertising a separate water source from the Cecil.
That was about the last sane moment connected with the Elisa Lam case. It’s been almost four years, one season of American Horror Story, an episode of Castle, a horror film, a Zolas’ music video–all loosely based on Lam. Hours of intellectually lacking internet conjecture later and it’s safe to say that the case of the Cecil has officially become a cluster fuck.
Let’s refer to a handy-dandy idea from the world of science called “Occam’s Razor.” It goes something like this: when multiple theories can be used to explain the same phenomenon, there’s a pretty decent chance that the simplest and most plausible theory is the correct one.
It’s a useful notion. Especially when you’re chain watching the video of a deranged college student cowering in an elevator. Because it’s fun and exciting to imagine that there are devils and demons or sinister and highly capable thrill-killers lurking in the hall waiting to steal her soul/life. Hey, I’m open to places being haunted. Maybe even the Cecil for all I know. But you lost me at demons (and when you claimed the Black Dahlia’s body was found eight blocks away).
It’s significantly less fun to look at the coroner’s report and say to yourself, “oh shit, the cops found no less than eight medications in her possession including Wellbutrin, Venlafaxine, Sinutab, Quietapine, Lamotrigene and Dexedrine, all of which have potential side effects that range from hallucinations, delusions, agitation, suicidal thoughts or actions to hearing or feeling things that are not there, anxiety, aggressiveness or diarrhea.”
Unfortunately, Occam’s Razor leaves no tips for people who have confused their monthly payment to an internet service provider for a license to perpetuate inane and ideologically spurious theories online. (CC: Reince Priebus)
So, let’s look on the sunny side, Downtown: in an era of sky-slides and sanitized civic space, we finally have a tourist attraction loaded with an irrational fascination for death worthy of our gory past. If people want to objectify the Cecil and indulge in hysterical illusions of a sinister power lurking in its walls, so be it.
Someone’s going to make a killing selling knick knacks and Elisa Lam t-shirts one day, but for now the only ancillary business in Downtown’s Disneyland of Death is Dave’s Grill.
The unfortunately named Natural Selection Café is long gone from the shack at the foot of the Hotel Cecil. In its place is Dave’s Grill, an unassuming hovel of a café with limited seating and a sandwich-heavy menu. The prices aren’t uniformly affordable, but a selection of breakfast items, a la carte burgers, bowls and sandwiches served without sides make for cheap eats.
I forked over $8.18 and received a veggie burger and a bag of salt and vinegar chips in return. (Side bar: you would think some intrepid chip mogul would have found a way to milk the pockets of health conscious new age hipsters with apple cider vinegar and Himalayan rock salt chips by now.)
A younger, more open minded and even handed version of myself would have dined inside the Cecil just to see if any spirits attempted to lure me to my untimely death. Unfortunately, it’s 2017 so the reserve of patience I allocated to tolerating the whims and fancies of people with dumb ideas went out the door around November 9.
You’ll have to settle for the thought of me sitting behind a giant particle board sign that masked my dining presence from the scavengers, savants, tourists, mass transit patrons and fashion district refugees that haunt that stretch of Main St.
I award Dave’s Grill a “1” on the binary and offer a warning: after leaving the shadow of the Cecil, I felt an unmistakable presence shaking me from the depths of my body. I call it “gas” which translates to “disembodied organic poltergeist” in internet speak.